I used to be old-school about mincemeat, preferring the sort that is really no more than dried fruits stirred up with some brandy, grated apple and suet and stuffed into a jar. It’s certainly easy, since no cooking is involved, but Hettie (who’s had more than a walk-on part in every one of my books since How to Eat), introduced me to the notion of suet-free mincemeat, a recipe I used gratefully in How to be a Domestic Goddess, and which I’ve adapted here to make it garnet-glinting and tartly fruity with cranberries.
I know this doesn’t make a huge amount, but it is enough to fill a good 50 of my little mince pies. It also happens to be the work—if you call tipping things into a pan and then scraping them out again, work—of moments, so if you need more (and it would be beautiful, in a jar, as a present), it’s not going to take much out of you.
I love the louche, old-fashioned mixture of port and brandy (which used to be administered to children for tummy aches) but if you wish to be a little more austere, replace the ruby port with cranberry juice and add another 2 heaped teaspoons to the amount of brown sugar below.
Yield: Make approximately 2 ½ cups—enough for 50 mince pies
¼ cup ruby port
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
3 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup currants
½ cup raisins
¼ cup dried cranberries
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 clementine
2 tablespoons brandy
1/8 teaspoon or a few drops of almond extract
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons honey
1. In a large saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the ruby port over a gentle heat.
2. Add the cranberries to the saucepan.
3. Then add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves, with the currants, raisins and dried cranberries and the zest and juice of the clementines.
4. Simmer for 20 minutes or until everything looks pulpy and has absorbed most of the liquid in the pan. You may need to squish the cranberries a little with the back of a wooden spoon to incorporate them.
5. Take off the heat and, when it has cooled a little, stir in the brandy, almond and vanilla extracts and honey and beat once more, vociferously, with your wooden spoon to encourage it to turn into a berry-beaded paste.
6. Spoon the mincemeat into jars.
If you want to revert to a more traditional, still suet-free, mincemeat, replace the fresh cranberries with a small grated Granny Smith apple and take out the dried cranberries, adding 2 tablespoons each of currants and raisins.
MAKE AHEAD TIP:
Make the mincemeat and spoon into sterilized jars. Seal with a lid and store in a very cool, dry place for up to 1 month. (An extra splash of brandy on top at this stage helps prevent the mincemeat from going moldy.)
Note: if using cranberry juice in place of port, store the mincemeat in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.
FREEZE AHEAD TIP:
Make the mincemeat and spoon into a freezer-proof container or sealable bags. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight at room temperature and use immediately.